Our Plates Runneth Over

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SAY WHEN: Portions at home have grown over the last 20 years

American restaurants are well-known for their heaping portions. Mounds of nachos, gigantic burgers, and super-sized fries are easy to come by when eating out. Eating in, on the contrary, has always been as a surefire way to begin to eat better and shed pounds. Now it turns out that may not be the case at all.

According a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, portion sizes of "key food groups" served at home grew substantially between 1977 and 1996. The tasty culprits include salty snacks (up 93 calories per serving), sodas (up 49 calories) and Mexican food (up 173 calories). The research included monitoring the food intake — at home and in restaurants — of 63,380 people.

What's spurring the trend? One theory is that we've grown accustomed to giant servings offered up in restaurants. Another possibility, and one more troubling to dieticians, is that we're just not satisfied by what we're eating. "The American diet has cut back dramatically on things like fiber and vegetables," says Lisa Sasson, a registered dietician and professor of nutrition at New York University. "We need those things to give our stomachs that full feeling, and not eating them means we're going to eat more fatty foods and more fried foods as a way of keeping ourselves satisfied."

Either way, the study is more proof that Americans' dangerous weight problem is getting worse, not better. As the battle of the bulge continues, it's worth remembering that it's not just restaurant food that can sabotage our diet efforts — the home-cooked stuff, piled high enough on our plates, can be equally problematic. It's certainly something to chew on.